South Carolina hasn’t gotten a lot of good bounces so far in 2016, but the middle of the schedule is a gift.
Through six games, the Gamecocks are 2-4 overall, 1-4 in the SEC and looking for something to turn around their declining fortunes. Last week’s bye week and this week’s opponent provide the near perfect opportunity.
UMass, which comes to Williams-Brice Stadium for a noon game Saturday, is 1-6 this season. It has beaten only Florida International and lost by 20 points to Old Dominion.
Of course, you won’t catch South Carolina saying a discouraging word about the Minutemen.
“They are a good ball team. They are coached well. They play good assignment football,” Gamecocks offensive tackle Mason Zandi said. “If anybody on our team wants to take them lightly, then that’s going to be a bad mistake. We are not in a position to say we’re better than anybody. The most important game is the next game, and right now UMass is our next game.”
The Minutemen are 123rd in the nation in total offense (317.3 yards per game) and 111th in the nation in total defense (468.6 yards per game allowed). The Gamecocks point out, rightly, that UMass trailed Florida by only three points entering the fourth quarter earlier this year, and that UMass was within a score of Mississippi State in the second half as well.
“You can’t really take UMass lightly,” defensive back Steven Montac said. “We have to prepare for them like we prepared for Georgia or Mississippi State.”
The bye week should help. South Carolina practiced Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week and returned to the practice field Sunday night.
“This bye week is basically a fresh start, a new season,” linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “We have six games. We win four, we’re going to a bowl game. We win all six, we’ll get to a better bowl game. That’s how we’re working. We’re working to win all six. It’s a fresh new start to this new season.”
Senior quarterback Perry Orth compared the Gamecocks’ season thus far to a struggling baseball player.
“It is what it is. It’s tough, but you just have to believe you’re going to get out of it,” he said. “It’s like playing baseball and you’re in a slump. The only way to get out of a slump is to believe you’re going to get out of one, and that’s kind of what we’re in right now is to believe you’re going to get out of one. We’re in a little rut right now, and we have to believe we are capable of getting out of it, and I believe we are.”
After UMass, the Gamecocks return to their conference schedule with games against Tennessee, Missouri and Florida. Anything is possible in that stretch, Zandi believes.
“I don’t go into a game with the expectations of losing one,” Zandi said. “I believe that this team is capable and talented enough to win any game that we play, and if there’s a guy on this team that doesn’t think the same thing, you can leave.”
Who: UMass at USC
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 FM
Line: USC by 20